The da-da–-da-da-da of “Pump It Up” opened for Elvis Costello at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Mr Costello came on stage after the seemingly sudden appearance of his three Imposters on bass, drums and piano. It was straight into the Costello heritage, the new wave history; right back to that initial connection with the man and his angry-young-pub rock-Buddy Holly-smart suited-late 70’s uniqueness. Let’s face it, “Pump It Up” is from 1978’s This Year’s Model album. But it suited us, from what I saw, a generally older crowd of devotees. I’d be happy to be proved wrong on that by the way. I’d be happy to hear a backlash of under-30s getting all Facebook vitriolic on how I mustn’t have been at the same Elvis Costello gig as them because I’ve got it wrong, and there were indeed plenty of all ages enjoying Messrs Costello & The Imposters on the night. That would be one of my better mistakes.
Without a word, “Pump It Up” moved straight into ”Radio Radio” with big spiky yellow lights pointing off the stage; then straight into “Watching The Detectives” which particularly showed off his singular voice and had the Costello man waving a megaphone and making siren noises. Steve Nieve had moved from behind the piano to a whole station of keyboards and synthesisers and Theremin, and I know not what else.
And so it continued for quite some time without a conversational peep from Mr. Costello. It was fine though, hit after hit after memory was being handed over to us. However, by the time he sang “Sunday’s Best” the chat between songs had been going for a while. With lyrics like “Beat up strangers who talk funny/Take their greasy foreign money”, “Sunday’s Best” still has a disappointingly contemporary side to it. And as the circus-waltsy intro kicked in, Nieve stood up from his piano stool and waved his arms out front like he was holding a dance partner; as did the Elvis fella too. Then it morphed into The Beatles’ “Polythene Pam” with some great guitar it must be said.
“She” was another cover. Costello made it clear that he and the band hated it, but the audience loved it and despite everything, it sounded like it received the biggest applause so far. During “A Good Year for the Roses” I noticed the people in front of me sideways rocking, doing the hip-to-hip swing. He held his hand to his ear to hear us repeat the chorus “a good year for the ro-o-ses…” It was barely there. We were a sober, Belfast, Tuesday night audience and the call and response wasn’t passing muster. “Terrible” he laughed, but that’s OK because it really was pretty muted.
Then there was a nifty change of guitar and some funky drums from Pete Thomas as a pretty epic “Bedlam” took over for quite some time, ending with a great whaaaa and another nifty guitar change into Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”. The words, the familiarity, the impressive piano – it provided us with a little bit of impetus. It was just at that dip in the gig. The one when you realise you’ve not been singing along for a while. Costello got us clapping, joined us in, brought us back to the fold.
Then he moved to the piano to give us a new song. I think it was called “Face In The Crowd” but don’t quote me. It’s about a man who professes to know the answer to everything – he left it up to us to select the “clown of our choice” to fit the bill.
They gave us a particularly excellent version of “Green Shirt” with a touch of Ryan Vail-ish electronica from Nieve on the keyboards. Then Nieve moved back to the piano for “Shipbuilding” with a definite jazz feel, the only things missing really were the drum brushes. “Alison” was a beauty. This time it worked with the crowd. We sang the chorus, and it was needed, and we were there for it. We done good.
I could go on listing them. The vast number of hits that Elvis Costello & The Imposters played the other night, but I think that’s enough to set the scene. After a long encore, filled with ongoing classics, he beckoned his band front of stage and with arms round shoulders they took a bow and left us to the business of going home.
Originally posted on CultureHUB Magazine